8 Ways To Not Regret Flying Spirit

As I hinted at on Monday, this week I flew Spirit Airlines, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I paid dearly for the privilege, as the ticket cost me twice as much as an American ticket would have cost with complimentary upgrades, lounge access, etc. But I’ve been wanting to fly Spirit, to see if flying with them is really that different than the experience offered by other US airlines. On Tuesday Travis shared his experience flying Spirit a while back, which summed up the experience pretty well.

While I’ll have a full trip report soon, I first wanted to share my biggest takeaways from the experience. Put another way, if you’ve never flown Spirit before, here are the things you should know before booking. In no particular order:

Pay for a carry-on

Spirit Airlines charges for both carry-ons and checked bags. Oddly they actually charge more to carry-on than to check a bag, which seems counterintuitive. For example, for my flight from Los Angeles to Seattle, it cost $5 more to carry-on than check.

You might think “well then I’ll just check it because it will be easier and I won’t have to fight for overhead bin space.” DON’T DO IT! The queues to check bags at Spirit are insane. I think this is intentional, so that they’ll convince you to carry-on for your next flight.

Also, anyone who pays for a carry-on bag automatically gets Zone 1 boarding, meaning you’ll be among the first onboard. So when you pay for a carry-on you’re not only saving yourself a lot of time, but also getting pre-boarding. Of course all of this assumes that you’re not just taking a personal item, which is the real way to score a deal flying Spirit.

Get a Big Front Seat

Spirit’s Big Front Seat might be the best value in domestic travel in terms of the upgrade cost. The seat doesn’t come with any other privileges, besides a more comfortable seat (you don’t get more service, pre-boarding, etc.). However, paying $32 for an upgrade to what’s essentially a domestic first class seat on a Los Angeles to Seattle flight is a phenomenal value, especially given that Spirit has the tightest seat pitch of any US airline.

I understand a lot of people fly Spirit because they’re looking to save as much as possible, so this isn’t for everyone. However, if you’re in a position where you can spend the extra money, do it.

Make sure you know how to read

This was the part of the Spirit experience that surprised me the most. There are many things you can accuse Spirit of — not being transparent isn’t one of them. They are transparent to the point that the booking process is a PITA. They ask you about a hundred times if you’re sure you don’t want to pay for a bag, if you’re sure you’re good with your selection, if you’re sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Yet overhearing the people at the gate, I was blown away by the amount of aggression and anger directed at Spirit. “Can you believe how much they charged me for a bag? How was I supposed to know I had to book it in advance.” Like, um, Spirit couldn’t be more transparent.

So be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into… please. If you pay $100 to check your bag on Spirit, you have only yourself to blame.

The worst part of the Spirit experience is…

I’m trying to phrase this delicately. For the most part I don’t find there to be a big difference between passengers on different US airlines. However, when we hear of stories of fights breaking out on planes, it seems to be Spirit flights half the time. That’s not a coincidence.

The crowd on this flight reminded me a lot of the people you’d find sitting at slot machines in Las Vegas at 6AM on a Sunday morning smoking cigarettes and still drinking.

I only had a few passengers seated near me, and before the door even closed I heard passengers use the “n” word, the “c” word, and the “s” word (derogatory term for Latinos). And that was before I put my headphones on and drowned everyone out for the rest of the flight.

Arrive early if you’re going to check a bag

This goes along with my first point above, but if you’re going to check a bag, arrive early. Way early. Like at least two hours early, because you may be stuck in line for over an hour. If you’re not checking a bag you should be fine arriving whenever.

Don’t (necessarily) fly Spirit

Spirit no doubt has consistently low fares, but nowadays so do many other airlines. So don’t just blindly book Spirit thinking you’re going to get a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, there are circumstances under which they may be the best value by far, and if you’re traveling light, it can be a killer value. But by the time you add in a $30+ bag and all kinds of other fees, you may be paying a premium for the privilege of flying Spirit.

So just know what you’re getting yourself into, and compute the “all-in” cost before booking.

Have a good attitude

I have the utmost respect for people who work for Spirit. The way I saw passengers treating Spirit employees was unbelievable, and despite that, they were all friendly. Passengers were letting their out their anger about the Spirit experience at employees, even though they have only themselves to blame.

I found that just by being polite and smiling I found that I got great treatment.

More importantly, though, you have to go into the overall experience with a good attitude. Are you checking a bag? Expect to wait an hour. Expect your seatmates will be crazy. Expect the flight will be delayed a bit. And hopefully you’ll come out with a positive impression.

BuzzBallz FTW

In the same way that I like to taste test the drink selection in international first & business class, the same applies on Spirit. Their, ahem, “signature cocktail” is “BuzzBallz.” They have three flavors — Choco Tease, Tequila Rita, and Mile High Lemonade. The lemonade is actually available exclusively on Spirit, and who wouldn’t want to have Spirit’s exclusive signature cocktail?

Well, I’ve gotta say, they were delicious. Well, except the Tequila Rita. Yes, I felt like I was at a trashy college party, but they were tasty and really alcoholic. A buzz certainly helps make a Spirit flight more enjoyable!

Bottom line

I have a ton of respect for Spirit Airlines. They have a positive effect on airfare in the US, regardless of whether you fly with them or not. I also respect their transparency, even if they don’t offer my preferred “experience.” However, for many they make travel more accessible, and that’s great news. Just be prepared for some rowdy fellow passengers, and long lines if you check a bag. Otherwise it’s actually a pleasant experience.

Anyone have any other tips for making the Spirit experience as pleasant as possible?

Comments

  1. @ Ben — Thank you for confirming that I should not fly this airline. After all, I would never hear the end of it from FCQ. Maybe if s/he is traveling alone and pisses me off…. 🙂

  2. “only had a few passengers seated near me, and before the door even closed I heard passengers use the “n” word, the “c” word, and the “s” word (derogatory term for Latinos). ”

    Jesus.

  3. I have to say I didn’t need to subject myself to the experience of flying Spirit to know I never wanted to fly them but thanks for taking one for the team and validating what I’m guessing most everyone already assumed.

    FYI, small type-o with an extra “their” in this sentence:
    Passengers were letting their out their anger about the Spirit experience at employees, even though they have only themselves to blame.

  4. My experience =
    CVG – FLL –
    Full service carriers – $382 (minimum)
    Frontier – $139 + $75 (luggage+seat+snack+drink) – $214

    CVG – SFO –
    Full service carriers – $592 (minimum)
    Frontier – $69 + $75 (luggage+seat+snack+drink) – $144

    Yes, I have never flown with Spirit. But sometimes I don’t understand, why I should pay over $400 more for an economy seat on a full service carrier while flying domestic USA. Frankly, I have flown all Frontier, Delta, and United plenty of times in domestic economy – and I do not find any difference.. ANY!! I do not care for Delta’s or United’s in flight magazines, and I never recline my seat. I plan to fly with full service only when I am flying business.

  5. How did you miss the most important spirit tip?

    Book your tickets at the airport and save $18 each way per person, can really add up, and makes cheap tickets even cheaper.

    Great if you live near airport or traveling with multiple people.

  6. I’ve flown Spirit airlines a long time ago (LAX-FLL) and I promised myself I would never do it again even if they gave me tickets for free.
    I totally disagree with Ben that Spirit had any kind of positive impact on other US Airlines, I actually believe they have contributed to bring flying standards to mediocre levels and I think flying would be much better without the “Spirits” out there.

  7. It’s funny, but I’d fly Frontier 1000 times before I set foot on another Spirit flight. And it’s not the airline, their policies, or the aircraft that make that my rule. It’s the passengers. The worst bunch of unwashed never-evers I’ve ever flown with (and that list includes lots of flights in the 3rd world).

  8. My advice for Spirit. Never fly them when you’re going somewhere that requires a bag larger than the allowed (free) personal item. I’m amazed how much I can fit into 18x14x8. Because most of the flights I’ve taken are less than 4 hours and I stay for less than a week, I have no problem. If you follow their guidelines, they’re hardly worse than most other domestic carriers.

  9. LZZ is correct. The biggest “insider tip” in flying Spirit is to buy your tickets at the airport, which saves $36 per roundtrip per ticket. For a family, that can be huge.

    You’re already noted the “personal item only” trick.

    The biggest drawback, by far, is that Spirit flies most routes only once or twice a day, and if your plane goes mechanical . . . you’re screwed. Spirit doesn’t interline (if I’m using the term correctly) with other airlines. So you can’t really use Spirit for business travel.

    Your “bad language” experience is not typical of Spirit travelers out of DFW, LGA, BOS or BWI — at least in my personal experience.

    I’ve only had one significantly late flight, and have never had a cancellation. Yet.

    And, by the way, Spirit’s gate at LGA is right next to the Centurion Club. For those who care.

  10. For poor folks, carry a backpack that is squeeze down if needed. Pack everything you need in the backpack and then bring an overcoat with large pockets that you can get everything else in. Eat before leaving home or bring food with you along with an empty bottle of water (fill up at gate) Never pick a seat even if with someone and chances are that you will sit close to one another. Never buy tickets online just buy them at the airport.

  11. To me, the biggest drawback of flying Spirit is the paucity of their flights. If your travel plans happen to fit their schedule, great. This would have been fabulous in college. Now, taking more time off work to fit a flight plan is costly.

  12. Depending on how full the flight is, always be the very last person to board the plane. Then when you get on scan to the exit rows quick to see if anyone is sitting there and if not just help yourself to a great seat with tons of leg room. I’ve done it many times.

  13. Question I’ve always wondered…. so if you get the Big Front Seat (row 1) do you get to put your personal item item in the overhead for “free” ?

  14. If you book a package with an OTA there are NONE of those many, many warnings as to what you’re getting into (or at least there weren’t a couple of years ago). It’s entirely possible to be duped into a flight on Spirit, at least in the sense that you are never offered the option to buy things beforehand when they’re cheaper, and not made aware that you might even need to do that. I’m good at packing light, so I had no problem managing with just a personal item, but I pretty much stopped booking vacations through OTAs after ending up on a Spirit flight and having all the restrictions sprung on me last moment.

  15. Spirit doesn’t fit the clientele here. People here drink Krug and fly First.

    Spirit is for working class people and folks like me- very high income but cost conscious

    this year I paid for my entire extended family (14 people) to fly Minneapolis to Orlando. It was $300 PER TICKET cheaper than the next cheapest ticket. $4200 savings. This was after baggage fees!

    The flight was fine. Come on, it’s 3.5 hours of your life, and the savings paid for my 5 bedroom AirBnB AND for DisneyWorld..

    2 years ago we flew two people Minneapolis to Ft Myers for $115 each round trip cause it was COLD. We did an entire weekend for two (car, plane MOTEL on beach) for $415 total.

    So spirit has saved me at least $5000 on airfare in 18 months.
    It allows us to take 12 family members on vacation.

    As stated the biggest problem is an IRROPS
    But sometimes it’s worth the risk.
    Would I fly Spirit on a have-to-get-there trip? No.
    But a quick getaway or a trip where I have wiggle room? You bet!

    Anyway…for the same price of United Basic Economy you can fly Spirit AND buy a bottle of Krug!!!!! If the flight is canceled? You still have the Krug!

  16. @lucky. If you pre pay for a bag, you can still use the self serve kiosk and then go to the dedicated bag drop lane. They don’t help other customers so it moved pretty fast and I get done in less than 10 mins. I’m not sure whether you prepaid for a bag and used the bag drop lane

  17. You payed twice the price to fly spirit over AA domestic F, waited an hour in line, and you write a raving review about the experience. Yet you refuse to fly LY F, even though they’re retiring the product, because you don’t like the prices and are scared you won’t like the experience. Makes sense.

  18. Have never flown on Spirit and hope to never have too.

    That said booking Y tickets on a OTA these days are a high risk sport, even on a so called premium airline as Swiss on flights inside Europe you can end up with hand bags only fare these days with no warning.

    Plenty of people complaining online about Swiss and other LH group airlines after getting hit with extra baggage fee after using an OTA, so sadly this not just a problem with budgets like Spirit.

    The sad fact of the mater is that most people does not book direct with airlines, but true OTA and even in some cases brick and mortar TA’s. And that leads to people ranting about the airline screwing them over.

  19. I’ve flown Spirit a few times and – in my experience – it’s reliability that concerns me the most. If I have somewhere I must be or a connection to another airline – forget it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Spirit flight canceled but have had a few delayed by anywhere to an hour to four hours. Once was for some rowdy passengers (fairly cocktailed and being mouthy with the crew) while taxiing before t/o. Back to the gate to wait while they found their bags (it was int’l so the bags had to come off). Yes, there do seem to be a disproportionate number of trashy passengers on NK flights. I was delayed another time in Sto. Domingo by a “problem with a Dominican immigration computer” or some such nonsense – sounds like a cock and bull story but there we sat (on the plane) for two hours while they figured it out.

    They run such a tight schedule (no plane on the ground longer than necessary) that if there’s a problem, solutions are much harder to come by. They also have a barebones presence in most cities except for places like FLL or DTW – little to nothing in the way of backup. I also think they charge more for carry-ons to ease boarding and deplaning so they can tighten their schedule further.

    My beef with Spirit: reliability and the quality of their customers – in that order.

  20. @lucky

    carry ones are more expensive because, the less carry ones, the quicker the boarding goes.
    As for any low cost, they want the turn around to be as fast as possible.

    A long queue at check-in/bags drop off doesn’t cost a lot. However, a delayed flight is a financial pain.

  21. ” only had a few passengers seated near me, and before the door even closed I heard passengers use the “n” word, the “c” word, and the “s” word (derogatory term for Latinos). And that was before I put my headphones on and drowned everyone out for the rest of the flight.”

    I think this is unfair. You have flown one Spirit flight and you’re judging the entire experience off of that. I don’t think you have enough data to be making the assertions you are making.

  22. I have been flying Spirit for many years. I am not poor, downtrodden or the scum of the earth.
    I also fly AA, Alaska, etc when I want a destination not covered by an “economy airline”.
    During my years of flying there have been a few delays but I have also gotten to my destination early many times. Learn how to travel with the personal item and that is one less charge, by the way most airlines now charge a bag fee.
    Andy, if you sit in big front seat first row your personal item does go up above. They are great seats for going to Vegas, Florida etc.
    Go ahead and bash Spirit but I will continue to get great prices and get to my destination just fine. Most reason example, DFW to PHX roundtrip for 2 under $150 total.

  23. @Andre: “I think this is unfair. You have flown one Spirit flight and you’re judging the entire experience off of that. I don’t think you have enough data to be making the assertions you are making.”

    That might be true. But I’ve heard similar assertions (bad language, ghetto atmosphere) from other people who’ve flown Spirit. And it generally comports with my observations from the few times I passed the crowds at Spirit gates.

  24. Ben, I will call you a well rounded traveler. Dipping this low does take gut.

    I am starting to like this blog even more.

  25. “Expect your seatmates will be crazy.” This is how I approach most economy flights, which is usually how I travel (domestically, at least).

    @Tom: Walking out of LGA’s Centurion Lounge to board your Spirit flight sounds fantastic. Cheers!

  26. You couldn’t PAY me to fly Spirit but since I live in a destination they do not serve (HNL) there’s not much chance of that happening. If I want to spend 3 hours in a Ghetto, I can always drive over to Kalihi

  27. “The crowd on this flight reminded me a lot of the people you’d find sitting at slot machines in Las Vegas at 6AM on a Sunday morning smoking cigarettes and still drinking.”

    I was pissing myself reading and re-reading this

  28. God the level of pretentiousness on this board is disgusting. For the record, I frequently use the C-word among friends in a joking/ironic context and I will be flying first-class on Alaska Airlines at the end of this month.

  29. @Andy11235 – cue the sound of Spirit passengers looking up “paucity”. Let’s just say there is not a plethora of flights… LOL

  30. It does seem to mirror the Ryanair experience in Europe quite a bit. I’ve only flown them twice, but people fuming over high fees that could have been avoided or greatly reduced if they had just paid a little bit of attention during the booking process (where the website basically screams at you to select certain options now or pay a lot more at the airport) were a given.

  31. @John
    “If I want to spend 3 hours in a Ghetto, I can always drive over to Kalihi”

    YESSSSSSS. Thank you for the laugh on a Monday morning. I always ask myself “How much do I really want Mitsuken chicken and Helena’s lau lau?”

    PS: Spirit reminds me of the mainland version of the old Go! airlines (aka, No Go! if you needed to be anywhere on time or for something important)

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